Hamilton Epidemic GenealogyBank.com

As America combats the novel coronavirus, looking back at America’s first epidemic during George Washington’s presidency – using GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – shows how Alexander Hamilton used the power of the press to try to save lives.

Illustration: a portrait of Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury
Illustration: a portrait of Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. Credit: Bureau of Engraving and Printing; Wikimedia Commons.

Yellow fever cases began in early August 1793 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after a ship arrived from Santo Domingo, which had experienced a previous outbreak.

Illustration: Arch Street wharf, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the first cluster of yellow fever cases was identified in 1793, from an engraving by William Birch in “The City of Philadelphia,” 1800
Illustration: Arch Street wharf, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the first cluster of yellow fever cases was identified in 1793, from an engraving by William Birch in “The City of Philadelphia,” 1800. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of August, New York’s Weekly Museum published a letter from Philadelphia (at that time, the capital of the United States):

“…it is very certain there is great danger from a species of Yellow Fever, very infectious, and which has in about ten days killed 20 people or upwards, between Arch and Vine streets, in Water street, and has spread within a few days to other parts of this city. Our physicians think every one ought to use the precaution of chewing bark, &c., and avoid infectious persons and places.”

An article about yellow fever, Weekly Museum newspaper article 31 August 1793
Weekly Museum (New York, New York), 31 August 1793, page 3

When Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton came down with yellow fever in Philadelphia, Hamilton used the power of the press to try to save lives.

Worried about the “…undue panic which is fast depopulating the city, and suspending business both public and private,” Hamilton wrote a letter on 11 September 1793 to Philadelphia’s College of Physicians.

Read the full article on GenealogyBank.com.

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